Here we’ll take a look at Soft-Lite Elements windows. We were recently asked to write this review by one of our loyal readers are we’re happy to help. When looking at Soft-Lite Elements windows you’ll quickly learn that they are billed as the “most energy efficient windows” produced in North America. While they are awfully energy efficient when paired with the most expensive glass options, that level of efficiency is probably overkill for most folks.
Since they make the efficiency a cornerstone of the pitch for the Soft-Lite Elements let’s start there. When the Elements window is ordered with the Solar Ultimate Glass the ratings are very low.
They advertise these windows with a U-Factor of 0.16 which is pretty darn good. The trick is that lower isn’t always better when it comes to efficiency ratings. For example, a Solar Heat Gain Coefficient of 0.21 is pretty low. That’s great if you live in a climate that is dominated by high sun, but it’s not so good if you live in a colder area. In colder regions you want to take advantage of the sun and this option would block out too much.
Perhaps more importantly the visible transmittance rating (VT rating) is pretty low with this option. A rating of 0.37 means that the window will look dark. It would be smart to look at a sample window with this glass option before purchasing to make sure you’re comfortable with how it will look.
Of course you probably wouldn’t pick this glass option unless it made sense for your home and in your climate. The important takeaway here is that the claim of “the most efficient window” isn’t really relevant unless you’re going for bragging rights. It is much more effective to pick a window and a glass option that is right for your home and your climate.
What about the look of the Solf-Lite Elements windows?
In our opinion when some windows try to be “high end” they end up working a little too hard. For example, the exterior of the frame of the window is full of curly designs that can look a little busy.
Some folks like all of these lines and the salesperson will probably tell you all about how this gives it the look of a wood window, but in our mind it’s a little much. We like windows that look like they were always part of the home rather that one that tries too hard to stand out.
This is certainly a style factor and you might like a different look than we do, but consider that a window that looks fancy when sitting on your kitchen table might look a little too busy when installed in your home.
Another style feature on the inside of the Soft-lite Elements window gives it a very clean look. The Elements window does not have the traditional tilt latches. The tilt latches are incorporated into the locks which keeps the interior of the window looking clean and uncluttered.
In the past we have seen folks who struggled with how to tilt in their windows when they have this hardware. It’s not exactly intuitive, but it works well enough.
The salesperson talked a lot about air infiltration. Is it that special?
Air infiltration ratings are a big part of the pitch for the higher end Soft-Lite windows. Their ratings are good, but they’re not unmatched. For example, the published rating for a Soft-Lite Elements window is 0.01. While there are several reasons this rating is a little deceptive (reasons described in our post on air infiltration ratings), there are other windows out there that achieve the same or very similar ratings. We know every manufacturer wants to do their best to accentuate their strengths, but in our mind Soft-Lite goes a little too far with this pitch.
How about the warranty for Soft-Lite Elements Windows?
As is the case with all quality replacement windows they come with a “lifetime warranty”. As always you need to really read the warranty to see what is actually covered. In this case there are several important limitations:
- Soft-Lite does not cover labor to fix a warranty problem
- Soft-Lite does not cover shipping of replacement parts
- Soft-Lite offers 2 versions of their window warranty, one with glass breakage coverage and one without. Make sure you know which one you’d be getting.
These limitations aren’t necessarily deal breakers they are more limited than what you’ll find from several other manufacturers.
What’s the bottom line?
To sum things up, the Soft-Lite Elements windows are a nice option. They can be configured to have great ratings, but the marketing claims tend to push the envelope a little too far. Realistically they’re pretty darn similar to the ratings offered by many other windows. It’s important to remember that unless you’re planning on living in the home another 50 years you may not realize any savings with a 0.01 difference in any particular rating.
If you’re looking for a “high end” option, you like the local dealer and you’re comfortable with the pricing, this is a fine option. Just don’t let anyone make you think you have to spend $800 per window to get good quality. You have several other options to achieve similar ratings so be sure to shop around if your not comfortable. At $400-$500 for a typical double hung window this is a fine option. Much more than that and you’ll be better served to keep looking.
Due to the way Soft-Lite windows are typically marketed you may be able to find a better value in the Soft-Lite Imperial LS window which is very similar. There isn’t much reason to pay any more for one than the other.